Belleville Senators: October Review

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The first month of the Belleville Senators under Troy Mann’s regime is in the books (thankfully without the interference of former BSen GM Randy Lee), and it’s time to look at it in its entirety. You can read my predictions prior to the season. Let’s begin with the roster.

Roster Volatility

The initial surprise was Max Lajoie making the NHL roster (and not simply for a game or two); veteran Paul Carey joined him initially. Prior to the season Jim O’Brien was knocked out of the lineup long term–he’ll miss months. Ben Sexton and Aaron Luchuk also missed the start of the season (the latter surprisingly sent to ECHL Brampton). This state of affairs was compounded when Logan BrownMarcus Hogberg, and Andrew Sturtz were all hurt in the first game; the team also lost Christian Jaros and Nick Paul to call-ups (temporarily for Nick). All these changes meant many of the players initially sent to Brampton were recalled (Filip Gustavsson, Francois BeaucheminRyan Scarfo, and the late-signee Daniel Ciampini).

Stats

The Team (last October shown in red)

5-5-0 (3rd division, 7th conference) 4-4-1
GF 30/3.00 (t-7th conference) 27/3.00
GA 27/2.70 (t-6th conference) 31/3.44
PP 10-43/23.2% (5th conference) 6-49/12.2
PK 33-41/80.4% (8th conference) 39-47/82.9
Shots 27.1 28.4
Shot Differential -6.1 -7.5

Comparing Kurt Kleinendorst’s team last year to this one is an interesting process because on the surface many of the numbers are similar. The team is winning at roughly the same rate, scoring the same number of goals-per-game, and killing penalties at a commensurate rate (each gave up eight powerplay goals, albeit this year’s team is taking fewer penalties). The biggest differences are the powerplay (not just the percentage, but goals and opportunities) and the goals against–the difference between 2.7 per game and 3.44 is massive. The defensive difference, I believe, is largely due to goaltending: the previous October Andrew Hammond enjoyed a very respectable .929 save percentage, but he only played in three games and Danny Taylor was a miserable .903. Starter Mike McKenna‘s number isn’t massively different (.914), but it is better, and Filip Gustavsson‘s is much higher (.931) and he’s played more. Both iterations of the team gave up a ton of shots and I think if that continues this season they won’t be able to continue to score themselves out of the problem.

The BSens are slightly above .500 (3-2) within the North Division. The five games they’ve played outside the North is actually a significant percentage of that total (22% versus just 9% within the division), meaning the focus will be the local teams. I don’t think the playoffs are likely, but if there’s any hope it has to be via this route.

Players

(Arranged by points-per-game; rookies in green, ELCs in blue, AHL-contracts in italics; previous AHL-season, where applicable, in brackets)
Batherson 10-4-8-12 1.20 5 PPP
Chlapik 5-1-5-6 1.20 2 PPP (0.61)
Paul 6-2-4-6 1.00 3 PPP (0.50)
Rodewald 8-3-4-7 0.88 3 PPP 1 SHP (0.40)
Balcers 10-4-4-8 0.80 3 PPP (0.71)
Carey 4-0-3-3 0.75 1 PPP
Balisy 10-4-2-6 0.60 1 PPP 1 SHP (0.53)
Tambellini 10-3-3-6 0.60 3 PPP (0.46)
Murray 9-1-4-5 0.56 2 PPP 1 SHP (0.39)
Percy 10-1-4-5 0.50 2 PPP (0.38)
Sexton 4-0-2-2 0.50 1 SHP (0.70)
Wolanin 7-1-2-3 0.43 1 PPP
Gagne 10-1-3-4 0.40 3 PPP (0.36)
Beauchemin 8-2-1-3 0.38 (0.29)
Sieloff 9-1-2-3 0.33 1 SHP (0.17)
Bergman 10-0-2-2 0.20 (0.30)
Burgdoerfer 10-1-1-2 0.20 (0.25)
LaBate 10-1-1-2 0.20 1 SHP (0.28)
Leier 9-0-1-1 0.11
Englund 8-0-0-0 (0.14)
Ciampini 5-0-0-0/ECHL 3-2-0-2 (0.32)
Scarfo 5-0-0-0
Brown 1-0-0-0
Jaros 1-0-0-0 (0.36)
Sturtz 1-0-0-0
Erkamps ECHL 7-1-2-3
Luchuk ECHL 5-2-0-2
O’Brien INJ

Gustavsson 2-2-0 .931 2.54
McKenna 3-3-0 .914 2.72
Paterson ECHL .912 3.34
Hogberg INJ

Player Usage

What about lines/pairings? How is Mann utilizing the players at his disposal? We’ll separate forwards from defensemen, but generally he doesn’t adjust during games nor does he play around with the lineup much between games. The lineup has shifted more around player moves (injuries, call-ups) than coaching decisions (at least for 5-on-5).

Forwards

(Notations in brackets are when the player was on a different line than assigned when they registered the point–most of these are during the 7 D games when the fourth pairing was joined by someone else; players are arranged by line-playing frequency)

First Line (7 goals)
Balcers (10-10) 2 Goals, 2 Assists (Assist)
Chlapik (5-5) 4 Assists
Batherson (9-10) 4 Goals, 2 Assists (Assist)
Paul (5-6) 3 Assists
Rodewald (1-8)
The story here is very simple: in the opening game Paul centered the second line (with Batherson) and Rodewald played the wing on the first line; since then it’s been Balcers/Batherson with Chlapik (when healthy) or Paul.

Second line (4 goals)
Carey (4-4) 2 Assists
Sexton (4-4) 2 Assists
Brown (1-1)
Balisy (8-10) 3 Goals, Assist
Tambellini (5-10) (Assist)
Gagne (4-10)
Paul (1-6)
Rodewald (1-8) Goal
Batherson (1-10)
LaBate (1-10)
Mann transitioned from Balisy with Tambellini/Gagne (which was not very effective) to Carey/Sexton when they returned to the lineup (a much more effective trio).

Third line (3 goals)
Rodewald (6-8) Assist (Assist)
Leier (6-9)
Tambellini (5-10) Goal, Assist
LaBate (5-10)
Beauchemin (3-8) Assist
Balisy (2-10)
Gagne (2-10)
Early in the season the line was LaBate centering Leier/Rodewald, but it’s evolved to Beauchemin-Tambellini with a variable third (the move down the lineup helped the latter). Until recently this was the least productive line on the team.

Fourth line (4 goals)
Scarfo (5-5)
Ciampini (5-5)
Beauchemin (5-8) 2 Goals
LaBate (4-10) Goal
Gagne (4-10) Goal
Leier (3-9) Assist
There were four straight games early in the season when the team dressed seven defensemen, such that the fourth line was Ciampini plus one. The line currently is LaBate/Scarfo plus another. Due to the injury/call-up situation this has been the most talent-starved trio.

Defense

(Notes in brackets are points when not on the ice with the usual partner for that game)

Top-pairing (2 goals)
Burgdoerfer (10-10) Goal, Assist
Wolanin (7-7) Goal, Assist
Murray (3-10) Assist
This unit has been very stable, with the switch on Burgdoerfer’s left side only coming when Wolanin was recalled to Ottawa. It hasn’t been a particularly productive duo and that’s due to Burgdoerfer’s offensive limitations–for whatever reason Mann doesn’t want to utilize Bergman’s abilities and besides him there are no other offensive options on the right side (Percy could play here, as he often plays his offside, but there seems to be no desire to do that).

Second-pairing (1 goal)
Percy (10-10) Goal, Assist (Assist)
Murray (6-9) (Assist)
Sieloff (3-10)
Jaros (1-1)
After Jaros’ recall Percy cleaned up Murray’s messes until Wolanin was also called-up and Sieloff was elevated to the line. Neither Murray nor Sieloff have been helpful in generating offense.

Third-pairing (0 goals)
Bergman (10-10) Assist (Assist)
Englund (8-8)
Sieloff (6-9) Assist (Assist)
Mann went with 7 D in four games which meant this became a threesome (Sieloff being used primarily to kill penalties with very limited 5-on-5 time). Despite the limitations of TOI and Englund it’s been reasonably productive thanks to Bergman.

Goaltending

I have to wonder if injury and circumstances (Condon‘s demotion) will conspire to rob Marcus Hogberg of his chance to rebound with the BSens. Time will tell, but for the moment Gustavsson has been fantastic and McKenna solid. Among AHL goaltenders with at least 4 games played Gus is 4th in the league with McKenna 12th (amusing side note: Chris Driedger is 2-0-1 with a .923 playing for Springfield, granting that’s a very good team). The BSens are getting their best goaltending since 2012-13 (albeit not quite at that exalted level).

Special Teams – The Powerplay

Overall the powerplay has been both good and balanced (the first line has six goals, the second four). It’s important to note, however, that eight of those ten goals came in a four-game span (October 13th-20th). In the other six games the team is 2-20 (10%), so it’s quite possible for the production to flatline to some degree. These are the raw scoring numbers:
Batherson 5
Balcers/Paul/Rodewald/Gagne/Tambellini 3
Chlapik/Murray/Percy 2
Wolanin/Balisy/Carey 1

Scoring by specific lines (shift count included; arranged by goals/effectiveness):
1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Rodewald/Wolanin-Batherson 3-19
2nd: Tambellini-Balisy-Gagne/Percy-Murray 3-21
1st: Balcers-Paul-Rodewald/Wolanin-Batherson 2-6
1st: Balcers-Paul-Rodewald/Percy-Batherson 1-2
2nd: Carey-Balisy-Gagne/Percy-Tambellini 1-5
Combinations with no goals:
1st: Balcers-Paul-Sexton/Murray-Batherson 0-5
1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Leier/Wolanin-Batherson 0-5
2nd: Tambellini-Chlapik-Gagne/Percy-Balisy 0-4
2nd: Paul-Brown-Batherson/Balcers-Wolanin 0-4
2nd: Carey-Balisy-Gagne/Murray-Tambellini 0-1
2nd: Leier-LaBate-Sturtz/Bergman-Jaros 0-1
2nd: Tambellini-Balisy-Gagne/Sieloff-Burgdoerfer 0-1

Individual percentages (ignoring those with single shifts):
Rodewald 6-27 22.2%
Paul 3-17 17.6%
Carey 1-6 16.6%
Percy 5-32 15.6%
Wolanin 5-34 14.7%
Balcers 6-41 14.6%
Batherson 6-41 14.6%
Chlapik 3-24 12.5%
Tambellini 4-32 12.5%
Gagne 4-32 12.5%
Balisy 4-32 12.5%
Murray 3-27 11.1%
Sexton 0-5
Leier 0-5
Brown 0-4

Your eyes do not deceive you: Leier was on the top PP unit for a game. Something else that stands out is Percy’s effectiveness (his pairing contributing to half the team’s powerplay goals), yet somehow he’s almost never on the first unit (yielding to Murray of all people–the org’s love affair with Murray remains inexplicable to me). Don’t let Rodewald’s numbers at the top fool you–he’s benefiting from a small sample size and a bit of luck (something very evident in his season numbers from last year). Paul’s are also a bit inflated (as the season winds on he should drift down to Balisy/Tambellini territory). And what does Bergman have to do to be given an opportunity to play? He has 9 career PPG’s and 20 assists–apparently that’s not enough to earn him a look (Tim Heed clearly contributed to his production in San Jose to some extent, but still).

Special Teams – The Penalty Kill

The BSens PK has been awful for quite some time, due to a mix of poor defense, middling goaltending, and inflexible coaching. The overall numbers this season aren’t that different from Kleinendorst’s, but the big picture hides nuance so let’s dig into it. Here are the various forward line combinations we’ve seen (arranged by volume):

LaBate-Rodewald 18-20*
Balisy-Sexton 17
Carey-LaBate 10-11
Tambellini-Balisy 10
Balisy-Rodewald 7
Beauchemin-Rodewald 5
Rodewald 3-4
Beauchemin-Balisy 3
Tambellini-Paul 2
Tambellini-Rodewald 2
Carey-Balisy 2
Tambellini-Beauchemin 1
Paul-Balisy 1
LaBate-Chlapik 1
Ciampini-Beauchemin 1
Chlapik-Rodewald 1
Beauchemin-Leier 1
Leier-Rodewald 1
Carey-Beauchemin 1
LaBate-Sexton 1
Carey-Sexton 1
Paul-Beauchemin 1
LaBate-Beauchemin 1
LaBate 1
Balcers-Chlapik 0-1
Ciampini-Chlapik 0-1
Paul-Rodewald 0-1
Paul-Balisy 0-1
*One of these goals LaBate had just left the ice (Bergman on) when scored upon

This is a bewildering number of combinations, but one thing that’s clear is how quickly Mann abandons them early if they don’t work–four of the eight goals were against one-and-done forward pairings, which is pretty remarkable. I’ll get into the individual stuff below, but he does have a pretty good eye for what’s working on the PK at forward.

Arranged by individual shift count:
Balisy: 40-41 97.5%
Rodewald: 37-41 90.2%
LaBate: 33-35 94.2%
Sexton: 19-19
Tambellini: 15-15
Carey: 14-15 93.3%
Beauchemin: 14-14
Paul: 4-6 66.6%
Chlapik: 2-4 50.0%
Leier: 2-2
Ciampini: 1-2 50.5%
Balcers: 0-1

There are some puzzling decisions here: Daniel Ciampini is a lot of things, but a penalty killer he’s not–the same can be said for Balcers. Paul (and Chlapik) can’t really be judged with so little usage, but the latter is not usually a penalty killer and the former had at least decent numbers the previous year. Rodewald’s numbers are a bit better than last year, but despite the high shift-count he’s only seventh best among the forwards. Sexton, who was excellent last season, and Balisy (excellent this year) typically start PK situations. It’s clear that Mann wants players on the PK who can threaten offensively and this is in sharp contrast to Kleinendorst who simply wanted the puck down the ice. Moving on to the blueline (arranged by volume).

Sieloff-Burgdoerfer 31-33
Englund-Bergman 12-14
Sieloff-Percy 11
Englund-Percy 7-8
Murray-Percy 6-7
Englund-Burgdoerfer 4
Sieloff-Bergman 3
Murray-Bergman 2
Percy-Burgdoerfer 2
Murray-Burgdoerfer 0-1
Percy-Jaros 0-1

Kleinendorst’s most frequent PK pairing continues with Mann and it’s not a bad choice as Sieloff-Burgdoerfer were the most effective remaining players from that season. The combinations are a little less random than at forward, but there’s continuing experimentation by Mann on the second-pairing. While it’s not clear above, the Englund-Bergman combo never starts a kill–they are always either ending it or serving through the middle of it. The initial unit always includes one of Sieloff, Burgdoerfer, or Percy.

Arranged by individual shift counts:
Sieloff 45-47 95.7%
Burgdoerfer 37-40 92.5%
Percy 26-29 89.6%
Englund 16-18 88.8%
Bergman 17-20 85.0%*
Murray 8-10 80.0%
Jaros 0-1
*The extra goal is due to the aforementioned LaBate-Rodewald goal above

Last season Englund was the kryptonite to all his partners and he’s continuing that trend here (granting the small sample size). It’s entirely expected for Sieloff to have the best numbers, something he would have had last year were it not for an extended period where he was playing with the aforementioned Englund. I have no idea what Murray is doing killing penalties–the guy has his uses, but defensive play isn’t one of them. Not much has changed in how Mann has handled the pairings, but he does tend to lean on the main pairing more now than when the season started.

I mentioned some nuance to the numbers above and what I want to point out is that the PK is improving. After giving up a PP goal for eight straight games the team has gone two straight without one and the overall trend is better (the team is 27-32, 84.3%, over the last seven games). The return of Sexton has greatly helped solidify the forward rotation.

So there we have it, a look at the team ten games into the season. The BSens have been more entertaining than last few seasons and there’s more talent to watch (Batherson is a joy to watch). If the general health of the roster is better and there’s less fiddling from Ottawa we have much more excitement to come.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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